Computer Lust: Here Are The Warning Signs

Once again, Valentine's Day approaches, a day which for most people means roses and chocolates, heart-shaped cards and soft glances, and a 24-hour truce in the war between the sexes.

But for a certain type of individual, Valentine's Day consists of an entirely different set of rituals. For this person, the only hearts to be found are in graphics-program code, or perhaps in clip art for a paint program. If this person thinks to send a Valentine's greeting, it will undoubtedly be in the form of a cupid-gram, with the technological warm-and-fuzziness only electronic mail can provide.

Call this person what you like - a computerphiliac, nerd, technoid or cyber freak - he is suffering from a well-known, culturally documented condition. It can strike anyone, anywhere, at any time - although it is usually the male of the species. It takes decent, law-abiding citizens, even professional-wrestling fans, and turns them into distant, often unintelligible code-warriors with little time or respect for others.

It's wrecked more homes than Hurricane Hugo, disrupted more lives than the Quake of '89, broken more hearts than Tom Cruise. Highly contagious, it may even be inherited (offspring manifest it as Nintendo). Whatever the cause, it makes ``Invasion of the Body Snatchers'' look like a warmup act.

Computer Lust. Watch out, you could be next. As a public service, we hereby present its warning signs, so you can take appropriate measures early and often to counteract its pernicious effects.

-- Warning Sign No. 1: A friend or associate gets it.

Symptom: A passing interest in something you once associated with sniveling, bean-counting cloth-eared, linear-thinking engineering twits who now, it should be pointed out, are all multimillionaires.

Expression: ``Frank has this new computer, says it's revolutionized his life.''

-- Warning Sign No. 2: Subscriptions to thick, slick-bound magazines the size of phone books with names like PC Puffery, MacSwoon and AmigaLove, in which articles and advertisements about a given subject are virtually impossible to tell apart, given the fact they often appear on the same page.

Symptom: Reading these publications before, during and after meals, while entertaining important guests, in church and during the birth of a first child. Quoting aloud from a lead editorial discussing the virtues of UNIX vs. OS/2. Also, letter carrier filing for disability due to bad back.

Expression: ``Wow, look at this great article on C compilers!''

-- Warning Sign No. 3: Abrupt and unpredictable stops at computer stores, even those with signs in the window that say ``CP/M Sale in Progress!''

Symptom: Screeching tires, U-turns during rush hour at Bellevue Crossroads, a sudden accumulation of road maps.

Expression: ``Computerland in Cheney is having a sale on surge protectors. We'd better set aside Saturday to go.''

-- Warning Sign No. 4: Gradual but noticeably perceptible shift in linguistic orientation.

Symptom: Ability to speak only in initials and numbers.

Expression: ``. . . OCR scanner on a DTP system with a 300 dpi H-P II connected to 33-MHz 486 running a 150MB ESDI at 18 mips . . . .''

-- Warning Sign No. 5: Creative budget strategy.

Symptom: Constant use of hand calculator and scratch pad, followed by repeated phone calls to dealers and mail-order vendors; much head-scratching and pencil-sucking.

Expression: ``Let's see, if we sell the car, take out a second mortgage, fast for seven days a month and put one of the kids up for adoption, we can afford a new Mac IIci. . . .''

-- Warning Sign No. 6: Increasing withdrawal and isolation from others.

Symptom: Refusal to answer the phone. Mail unopened. Verbal communication through closed door only, or by thumping the floor with foot.

Expression: ``Please tell Mike I'll get back to him as soon as the polar ice cap melts.''

-- Warning Sign No. 7: Loss of sex drive.

Symptom: Inability to concentrate, often due to reading a computer magazine.

Expression: ``I've got it! If I just pull the terminator resistor and tell Setup it's Drive B, I can boot off the hard disk! Be back in a minute, honey.''

-- Warning Sign No. 8: Lust for second computer.

Symptom: See Warning Signs 1 through 7.

Expression: ``But I need a laptop so I can recalculate spreadsheets on the ferry!''

-- Warning Sign No. 9: Rejection.

Symptom: Inability to solve a programming or compatibility problem despite interminable hours at VDT, memorization of manuals and repeated calls to tech support.

Expression: ``My computer doesn't love me any more. Let's sell the damn thing and fly to Rio.''


Users Group news: The Pacific Northwest PC Users Group will feature a demo of Quicken, Intuit's financial-management program, and an electronic BBS roundup in its meeting beginning about 7 p.m. tonight in the Museum of History and Industry. In deference to Valentine's Day, the Macintosh Downtown Business Users Group will meet a week later than usual at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 21 in downtown's Crowne Plaza Hotel. Aldus will be on hand showing off its newly upgraded PageMaker. . . . Remember the promise of the paperless office? Since 1959, paper consumption has gone from under 7 million to more than 24 million tons a year, Forbes magazine reports.


When sending electronic-mail messages, use punctuation or parentheses to designate emphasis or humor, e.g., ``You're the GREATEST!! (grin). This helps eliminate misunderstandings in an otherwise emotion-poor environment. (Thanks to Joel Johnson of Bellevue.) Have a tip, question or suggestion to pass along? Write this column care of The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle 98111. Paul Andrews can be reached on CompuServe at 76050,161 or via fax at 382-8873.

User Friendly appears Tuesdays in The Seattle Times. Paul Andrews is a member of The Times staff.